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`I feel so much controversy was not required'

I must actually compliment the Cricket Board for having marketed the game so well



Prakash Padukone: 'I was so unduly perturbed or worried like they' projected

AWARDS are a big bone of contention in the sports industry. A number people vie for awards because of the benefits that come along with them: promotions, appointments, hikes, perks, and of course, the prestige. We must have a non-partisan committee at the national level that selects the awardees in an unbiased manner. Having an autonomous body like a sports council might help, but the right kind of people must head it. Otherwise the biases will continue. Even with the government involved, there should be judges who will not budge from rules. Maybe some strong guidelines can be set so that nobody can tamper with eligibility. The criteria for the nominees should be publicised all over. Now, nobody knows what is the criteria: whether it's a medal at the national level, number of years they have played, whether you can consider players who are in the sixties, whether they have played in the last few years... are you aware? No. If it is splashed in clubs, sports institutes, academies, youth centres, stadiums, and so on, comparatively — I'm not saying favouritism can be completely eliminated — vagueness can definitely be reduced. If some undue person still gets it, at least it can be challenged. The public needs to do this. Not one lone man.

See, this Olympic torch issue also... many sportspeople were ignored, and I did comment on that. The event is over, and I don't want to rake up the issue again. But personally, I feel so much of controversy was not required. I felt, in a way, a little sorry about it. I was not so unduly perturbed or worried like they projected. The whole thing was made to look as if I was soooo disappointed that I was not called. It was not that way at all.

I was asked a question about my reaction, as in, `so-and-so have been invited and you have not, so what do you feel?' I was just replying to that. I thought similar views would be taken from other sportspersons and everyone's views will be there. But the whole thing was shown as if I was the only person in the entire country who was unhappy with the list. They should have asked P.T. Usha, Milkha Singh, Ajit Pal Singh... that was the right way to do it. They went to other people saying Padukone said this, what is your reaction to what Padukone said, and all that. This was highly uncalled for. And I didn't mean to create such a big controversy.

See, I want to clarify that I am not happy at all by how this was blown out of proportion. I regret for having given the impression that I'm some kind of crusader for this cause. In fact, I was not even aware of this torch run, who was the organiser, whether it was the sports ministry, the SAI, IOA, or somebody else. I didn't know when the torch was coming, who all were invited... I was just back from a golf tournament in Mumbai and I get a call from NDTV saying they wanted a reaction. I said all right, come over. After that, every one hour, there's a call from PTI, UNI, BBC London, this one and that one. All I did was voice a general feeling that sportspersons who brought laurels for our country, people who had taken part in the Olympics should have been called. I've never taken part in Olympics... I just feel that so many players are still there — Ashok Kumar, Ajit Pal Singh, Ganesh, Govinda, Leander Paes, Bhupathi, wrestlers, weightlifters, shooters — why not call them? This is just my view. I'm not there to judge. But the whole thing has turned out badly.

As for many cricketers being in the list, it's not surprising. Even if it is not an Olympic sport, there's no doubt that cricket is the most popular game in the country. I must actually compliment the Cricket Board for having marketed the game so well because cricket was not the same 15-20 years back. They entertain, they're thorough professionals, so the cricket team deserves every bit of credit it has got.

Secondly, it is very natural that in every country, one or two sports will always be popular. If you go to Indonesia, it is badminton; if you go to Brazil, is football/soccer; in the U.S., you have basketball and baseball.

About shifting gears to popularise another sports, it is the responsibility of the other national federations. We need people with vision, who are willing to devote more time to promote their sport. Corporate sponsors are definitely looking for mileage. Maybe the private sponsors are not comfortable to invest too quickly in other sports. See, a good rapport with the sponsors is crucial. When federations, tournament organisers approach sponsors for money, they make certain commitments that have to be met. But I don't think (that happens). So, as a sponsor, you will not go back to them next year. There are actually enough sponsors willing to put in money. There are definitely some changes in the scene... like in hockey, there is some amount of prize money, tennis also it is there. So organisers of sports events should try to do the same. Interact with the media, PR people, publicise the tournament properly. Get TV coverage — not just Doordarshan, but Star Sports and other private broadcasters. Effort should go into making the sport more popular and sponsors will come automatically.

Cricket is in a level of its own. So let's not compare other sports to cricket. Maybe it's good that cricket is on the front page. That a sport is on the front page. Even if you wanted to increase coverage of other sports, relegating cricket to the last page is not the answer. I would prefer if Gopichand were also on the front page. That would be a good way of looking at it — an equal platform, so that coverage makes it easier for organisers of events to approach sponsors. Media can help tremendously by giving a little importance to other sports: give interviews with players, cover tournaments properly, bigger write-ups. But it doesn't have to be at the cost of cricket.

As told to ROHINI MOHAN

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